Ready to Serve: Milton Williams joins St. James Cathedral
February 11, 2014
The Rev. Milton C. Williams has loved his time as interim at Church of the Ascension, where Sunday he and the parish celebrated his ministry there. With goodbyes said, his attention is now focused on his new ministry as interim dean at St. James Cathedral, which begins February 18.
"I am very excited. St. James is in a perfect location, with unique urban opportunities. I'm excited that Bishop Lee wants me to serve as his dean and the people of St. James have voiced their enthusiasm for me being called to serve at this time."
Williams is also happy that, with the Cathedral located less than a mile from Ascension, he won't have to pack up and move too far, which he has done many times during his priesthood.
Being an interim rector or dean "really is a sojourner's vocation," he said with a laugh. "I'd really like to get a chance to unpack my boxes, but I have no regrets. I've had a joyful time."
A native of Suffolk, Virginia, Williams earned a BS degree from Virginia State University in 1983, an MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1987, and a diploma in Anglican studies from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1996. He served as priest associate at the Historic Pohick Episcopal Church, Fairfax County, Virginia, from 1996 to 1999 and as priest associate for pastoral care and outreach at Trinity Church, Wall Street, from 1999 until 2006.
From Trinity Church, Wall Street, he headed south and served two parishes in Washington DC—as interim rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church from 2006 to 2008 and as priest-in-charge at St. Monica and St. James from 2008 to 2012. He was named interim rector at Church of the Ascension in September 2012. His call as interim dean at St. James is a one-year appointment.
"This past year and a half at Ascension has brought me back to life in so many ways," Williams said. "It has restored my sense of vocation and has readied me to serve at St. James Cathedral. Having served at Trinity Wall St. for eight years has readied me, too, in that I have the skill set of working in a larger parish with more complex systems."
Serving as an interim requires a special skill set all its own. As Cathedral Senior Warden Alan B. Gunn noted in an update to the congregation during the search for an interim dean, "The position is not just one of caretaker, but one of a specially trained leader who understands that their task is not only to minister to a congregation, but one that is to help the congregation move forward on their journey. As the Search Committee completes its work, we want the interim dean to be the right person to 1) support and sustain an effective liturgical and pastoral ministry, and 2) help us move ahead with openness to the possibilities that new leadership will bring."
Looking ahead to his year as interim dean at St. James, Williams said the challenges and opportunities faced by the cathedral are similar to those faced by many downtown parishes, including finances and changing demographics.
"If you ask the people of St. James, they will tell you that finances are a challenge," Williams said. "They are having to revision themselves in terms of their fiscal economy. They've had to make some difficult financial decisions. Howard Hanchey, who was a professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, talks about how churches are either focused on mission or maintenance. When you are focused on dollars and cents, then you are focused on maintenance. How do you not focus too much on dollars and cents but focus on mission? It's a common theme in churches across the country. How do we revision ourselves so we no longer live out of a sense of scarcity but a sense of abundance?"
Williams said he also will work with St. James to strengthen bonds within their immediate community.
"We will be looking at how to attract people who live right downtown in the neighborhood," Williams said. "People who move back to the inner city these days are either empty nesters who have downsized, or they are young people who are not long out of school and find living in the city more liking to their lifestyles. We need to find a way to attract more of them to St. James."
Williams said the close proximity of a college campus and major teaching hospital offers even more ministry opportunities.
A busy year begins.